Scrapped in 2015, but still around us — here’s why it’s alarming that Section 66A of the Information Technology Act continues to be used in India.

Section 66A
Delve Law, Order and Justice Friday, August 27, 2021 - 13:26

For the past six years, a law — scrapped in 2015 — continues to be misused in India. In the year 2015, the Supreme Court had passed a landmark decision striking down the draconian Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Section 66A of the IT Act had prescribed punishment for sending offensive messages through any communication service — through a computer, mobile, telephone, social media, etc. It penalised sending any information that is “grossly offensive or has menacing character,” and if a person felt that any online content “causes annoyance or inconvenience” to them, it could amount to an offence. Any person found guilty of offence, would face a prison term of upto three years, and/or a fine.

The legal movement against this draconian law began when Delhi law student Shreya Singhal moved the Supreme Court over the rampant misuse of this law. She cited the arrests of Maharashtra residents Shaheen Dhada and Rinu Srinivasan over a Facebook post questioning the shutdown in Mumbai after former Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackeray's death in 2012, and were arrested and sent to jail. Shreya said in her petition that Section 66A is violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. Along with her plea, multiple petitions were filed in the Supreme Court against this stringent law. In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down this law.

The Supreme Court said that the law “arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right to free speech and right to dissent” and has a chilling effect on free speech. However, despite the Supreme Court's clear orders, this law continued to be used across India. As of today, there are around 800 cases where this scrapped law has been invoked, shows a study conducted by the Internet Freedom Foundation.  

“Despite the Supreme Court judgment, this law continued to be used," says Apar Gupta, Executive Director at the Internet Freedom Foundation. "Now, this is not only a breach of our fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, it also undermines the authority of the Supreme Court when it lays down a constitutional provision of law. And the third, is that it also results in a wastage of scarce resources for police investigation, as well as the criminal justice system, in which our courts are already burdened.”

The People's Union for Civil Liberties has moved the Supreme Court twice now over the continued use of this law — earlier in 2019 and now again in 2021 — seeking directions from the Supreme Court to the governments in India to ensure that this law is not used ever again.

"A judgment of the Supreme Court is something which is binding on all the authorities, High Courts, courts, etc," says Sanjay Parikh, National Vice President of PUCL. "And if that is not obeyed, then that is something which is very, very serious. And we have given suggestions that not only in this matter, but any other matter where the Supreme Court has given directions, they should be obeyed by all the authorities, and by all the courts. That is important for the rule of law."

But despite clear orders from the Supreme Court, why does this law continue to be used and why should citizens care? Watch the video to know more.

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